Do not go to see the Man Ray exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City!
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention is a dangerous show and may be permanently damaging to your creative photographic health.
Oh, sure… If you go, you will see a near perfect print of the nearly ubiquitous Man Ray print ‘Noire et Blanche’ (or ‘Black and White’ as it is labeled in poster shops and college campus bookstores all over the US). The above jpg is a faint reproduction of this truly fine print.
You will also see many of Man Ray’s now iconic images such as the dada’ist direct-to-the-point metaphoric ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’.
The photograph ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ says it all in one photo; it is a photograph using his beloved model and sometime paramour, Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin), in a play on a common French expression, “violon d’Ingres”. The idiomatic phrase can be taken to mean either, perhaps, ‘to have a consuming passion or hobby’; or ‘to have a second area of skill’.
It is a reference to Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the renowned painter who also had a love for, and talent with, his famous violin.
It is a quintessential image, at once encompassing the attraction of the model, the casting of her as an instrument, which can be lovingly(?) played, while being an instant cliché-powerful example of the photographer’s dada dedication to playing the audience as well, with visual and conceptual irony.
How can we top that?
It’s like it’s all been so totally said in this one pic!
Again, if you have a primary love for photography, or even a secondary passion for it as a hobby, beware of this show!
Just to be on the safe side, you might also try to avoid the pretty fine catalog of the exhibition:
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention (Jewish Museum) (Hardcover).
The problem lies not with so much with the artist and the show, reviewed in The New York Times (which covers the ‘man’ in Man Ray) and in Time Out New York (which works the ‘Jewish man’ angle), but the problem lies with the resulting mind-warp it can cause in you, the possible viewer.
When an image so perfectly fits our neurological conceptual perception of some act or situation (think of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’) it becomes immediately impossible to even see let alone invoke the icon without becoming cliché, and therefore derivatively trite.
Much to my dismay, Man Ray was so effective at it all. It can be disconcerting that so many of his images immediately move into our cultural brains as being perfect expressions of their kind.
“There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.” (Man Ray – 1948 essay, “To Be Continued, Unnoticed”.)
How can we view Man Ray’s wide gamut of work without becoming iconically-ideated and thus creatively tainted with echoing infusions of his imagery? Even the great Gotham city of New York couldn’t deal with it.
Man Ray famously declared:
“Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.”
Again, DON’T Go to the Man Ray Show! You may not be able to see things clearly ever again!
Discover how it can affect your visual perception at your own peril.
I have been changed by his work.
Man Ray, ok – Emmanuel Radnitzky, was an effective artist before his forays into photography. His early paintings and commercial work are well represented in the show which sets up the exhibition stage for his subsequent photographic and Dada explorations.
Some of his paintings alluded to the then present, and again now contemporaneous, superimposition of elements making up an ever Dada’istic Manhattan. He presaged and encapsulated this urban phenomena so succinctly.
Overlapping juxtapositions of shapes, and 3-dimensional objects, often capture some timeless essences of complex visual scenarios, and interplays of light.
Am I truly stuck, or merely struck, by his imagery?
Alas. Behold. Now, this is what I see at The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
I had already been acquainted with, and tainted by, Man Ray’s work through earlier shows, by works in various museum collections, and by some books of his work that I own.
Photographs by Man Ray: 105 Works, 1920-1934 (Paperback) is a favorite of mine, and that of many of my photo/art students.
Note: The Alias Man Ray has on exhibit an original copy of the Man Ray, 1890-1976 (Hardcover) which has a really swell cover image.
“An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an original’s motivated by necessity. It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human.” Man Ray.
View yet another of Man Ray’s seminal works, ‘The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse’. It’s a later copy; the original having been purportedly made only to make a photograph of it. It was then ‘discarded’ or lost. Man Ray seems to have made a personal cottage industry in recreating the work in the mid-1970’s.
Below are some examples of the personally unfortunate psychic side-effects that ripple through my aesthetic, shot while I was photo-prowling on the streets and google-eyed gazing into the store windows of Manhattan.
It’s true what Man Ray said, if not truly thought, about all New York being dada. Even real world 3-D objects appear as dada objets d’art (art objects).
So, what’s an artist to do?
You see Man Ray’s work, you doomed to re-echo it perceptually, if not physically? Can I get a full-service brainwash with hand-detailing, and an extra coat of ‘spotless mind’ wax, please?
My ManRayDada cognitive disturbance even ripples outward in the artist gene pool pond, and extends all the way to his friend, collaborator, and dada daddy, Marcel Duchamp. From MOMA to the streets:
It also crosses over the jagged surrealist Pyrenees mini-mountains all the way to Salvador Dali:
“I have been accused of being a joker. But the most successful art to me involves humor.” (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)
The span of his work, and the playfulness evinced in it, speaks to his often joyful ironic twits in the face of commercial clients, show goers, and those who reproduce his work directly (for sales) or un/consciously, again, and again.
As a victim of this pathogenic permutation of my photographic aesthetic, I must again implore you, not to go to this show.
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention is at the Jewish Museum in New York City, November 15, 2009 – March 14, 2010.
To be fair, I like knowing his work and seeing the ramifications of his vision in the world around me. But, when I’m trying to actually creatively cook up something new in my own work, his work is among that which I pointedly avoid looking at while I gestate. I can’t really eliminate the effects of this malady, but I can warn you off a bit!
Alright. If you can’t make it to the show, do get the rather fine catalog,
Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention (Jewish Museum) (Hardcover).
“Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.” -Man Ray.
That ‘inspiration’ can move another artist to creative heights, or limit vision like a pair of iconic blinders.
Can you view, and then see the world anew? -Ken Storch
You proceed here at your own peril. PhotographyUncapped accepts no responsibility for your artistic well being, or your creative juices in general, if you choose to ignore this advice.
Through his his multifaceted persona, artful explorations, diverse art media, and art-scene associations, Man Ray was able to open new aesthetic directions for himself, and for the art world in general. He set a high bar for us who follow, even if we don’t see this show.
The above writing about the Man Ray show was found scrawled on a curiously wrapped piece of flotsam washed ashore on Coney Island shortly after the new year 2010.